Friday, July 11, 2008

Shakespeare-Related Fiction

Davies, Robertson. Tempest-Tost. New York: Penguin, 1980.

I don't read a ton of Shakespeare-related fiction. So much of it seems to be namby-pamby, particularly those works set contemporaneously to Shakespeare. But Tempest Tost by Robertson Davies is a different story. It's not fast-paced wit like one would expect from P. G. Wodehouse, but its humor is reminiscent of a Blandings Castle novel.
The plot involves an amateur theatre company attempting to put on a production of The Tempest. The funniest part is when the stuffy professor who plays Prospero asks, after the final dress rehearsal, for a stem of grapes
of exactly seven grapesthat he can get before his big speech:

"I don't want to cause any extra trouble," said he, in the voice of a man who is going to do precisely that, "but could the stage management contrive to give me a stem of grapes with exactly seven grapes on it; to have it concealed, I mean, in the basket on the banquet table, so that I can get it before my Big Speech? . . . Then I could eat seven grapes, during that speech, at at the end—

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep

I could toss away the stem. You take me? Rather fine, eh? . . . Seven grapes
what does that put you in mind of? The Seven Ages of Man, eh? From As You Like It. It is pretty clearly understood that the Melancholy Jaques is an early study for the character of Prospero. Now here we have a chance to make a synthesis-to draw Jaques and Prospero together, with this piece of business with the grapes . . . ."
All in all, an enjoyable read, filled with amiable characters and good (though leisurely) description.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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